Ideological systems get individuals to come to an agreement on how the world is; ideological systems are systems of shared belief. More commonly ideological systems can be understood as religious, nationalist, and philosophical beliefs, as well as a host of other connections to civic associations, and society. With the number of potential ideological systems being potentially infinite it becomes difficult to determine which systems are more crucial than others. Clearly, however, not all identities are created equally. Thus the challenge is not predicting which identity or belief system will become dominant, but merely tracking how it becomes dominant over time and space. The triumph of one ideological organization over another is less important than the effect that triumph will have on the scope of the ideological subsystem as a whole. Ideological subsystems thus are simply the rules and methods of inclusion. (For a more detailed overview see Barry Buzan and Richard Little, International systems in world history: remaking the study of international relations. Oxford, 2000).
Anthropologists on the other hand tend to identify as civilizations any sort of units which have reached a certain size, produce a significant surplus and attain a known level of control over their environment, possess class differentiation, and build cities. Case Study:
As for hegemons today, however, many eyes fall on Rome; See for example Niall Ferguson, Colossus: the price of America ‘s empire (2004) and Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2005).
Followed shortly thereafter by the collapse of the Western Empire as a whole, and since the above two books contain contradictions about the fall of the Roman Empire, this is where we will continue today.
In both Ferguson and Johnson, core principles of hierarchical sovereignty in the Roman Empire have been summed up with: Military reforms under Augustus and fiscal and citizenship reforms under later emperors were a necessary condition for the collapse of hierarchical sovereignty. The relative growth of Christianity was a necessary condition for the decline of hierarchical sovereignty. Successful norms entrepreneurs are a sufficient condition for a shift in sovereign principles. Specifically norms entrepreneurs that began to replace submission with negotiation in the diplomatic process created the sufficient conditions for collapse.
The question that arises with the above books however is why, the Roman international system, shifted suddenly in the late fourth century and early fifth century AD? If a financial crisis happens two hundred years before the rapid collapse of the Roman international system can one say that it was this crisis that caused the collapse, timing?
Also Paul Kennedy’s book on imperial overstretch brought fame to this now popular subject. Yet his The Rise and Fall of Great Powers reiterates popular narratives that have existed throughout history. For example, the core of the imperial overstretch argument thus focuses on the costs of maintaining an empire as the determinant of the rise and fall of that empire. Or, as Robert M. Axelrod points out, commitments to allies and tributary nations also incur eventually crippling costs. (Axelrod,A Model for the Emergence of New Political Actors. In Artificial societies: the computer simulation of social life, edited by G. N. Gilbert and R. Conte, 1995).
In fact existing explanations for the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West suffer from a couple key problems. The Classic Explanation as laid out by Edward Gibbon in his three volume “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ” fever since focused on the role of religion, barbarians, and decadence as the proximate causes of the Roman fall. We can find in Gibbon and others a fairly simple explanation; the shift and collapse of the Roman international system was caused by a decadent and dissipated ruling class who were unable to suppress the esoteric spirituality of Christianity and undermined the pragmatic, vigorous spirit of the Roman people through their avarice. The crux of the argument is itself a fairly rational explanation. The Roman people in the late third century found themselves rudderless and weak. They intentionally changed how they dealt with enemies on their frontier in the face of the barbarian onslaught. Given the number of barbarians coming across the borders it was politically expedient to offer citizenship to the most powerful in order to subdue the rest. The failure of the system occurred on two levels. First, the structural shift offering citizenship and other rights instead of seeking submission allowed a virulent and uncivilized nation to upset the balance of power on the frontiers of the empire. Second, the Romans were in no position to enforce a peace even if their decision offer citizenship was fairly rational. Much of the extant written record from the time tends to support this point of view. Ammianus Marcellinus wrote of the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, “The most savage people roused themselves and poured across the nearest frontiers.” (Ammianus as quote by C. R. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire: a social and economic study, 1994, p.194.)
Other characterizations of the Germanic people reaffirm this notion of Germania as uncivilized in contrast to the civilized core of the Roman Empire. (See Thomas S. Burns, Rome and the barbarians, 2003).
Within Roman writing at the time there was a growing sense of a flood of barbarians threatening the gates of Rome. Burns and others demonstrate fairly clearly how this is actually difficult to confirm if not altogether wrong. (See for example The Empire and the integration of barbarians. In Kingdoms of the Empire: the integration of barbarians in late Antiquity, edited by Walter Pohl, 1997).
Given the disjuncture between the written and archeological evidence many tend to discredit the Roman discourse at the time as playing into a conservative Roman narrative that reinforced basic Roman values and a sense of who and what Roman identity was. The classic school however tends to view this as fundamentally unproblematic. From this point of view the miscegenation and integration that occurs at the frontiers of Roman Empire does not counter the fact that it was a Goth king, Oadacer, who ultimately conquered Rome and deposed the emperor. In particular it is the failure of Rome to fill their military with “their own” people that reinforces the basic importance of the barbarians in this causal story. (Ramsay MacMullen, Changes in the Roman empire, Princeton University Press, 1990).
The other side to this issue is the effect of Christianity on the masses and upon the ruling class. By the time of the late empire the gap between the richest patricians and the proletariat had grown significantly. There was a massive shift in the proletariat from a meager independence to indentured servitude to local elites.
Advancement for the poor occurred through military service to the local gentes and the rights of citizenship gradually disappeared for the lower classes.In this context the rise of Christianity had two important effects. First, it allowed for an attractive spiritual alternative to paganism which traditionally had little regard for the poor.
The esoteric importance of the kingdom of god made their suffering on earth irrelevant, or at least more bearable. It also created a social structure that valued decency towards the poor. In the end though the church was most popular with what remained of the middle class. It was from this middle class that the values of loving the poor and giving alms to the church found its greatest support. As Christianity rose from persecuted religion to accepted dogma the officials of the church grew in power. The second effect of the rise of Christianity was to introduce a powerful alternative social structure in the midst of the empire. The bishops and presbyters were now able to collect and redistribute wealth. Where the church was able to meaningfully distinguish between the clergy and the laity, they were able to introduce an alternative hierarchy into Roman society.
Classicists claim that the Roman emperors were no longer able to motivate their people for the great sacrifices necessary for the maintenance of the empire. An alternative hierarchy with a separate set of underlying principles had replaced the organizational principles that structured the Roman world. Instead of sacrifice for the empire there was now sacrifice for the poor and for god.
These two issues, the invasion of the barbarians and the rise of Christianity, intertwine according to the classic argument to provide an explanation of changing sovereign principles. Does this causal linkage actually exist? The claim most simply is that the international system collapsed because Rome was weakened by shifting loyalties in the poor and middle classes and found itself unable to stem the flow of Germanic peoples into Roman territories. This is problematic in a number of ways. The history of barbarian-Roman relations existed well before the rise of Christianity. What changed was not the presence of barbarians, or even likely, the number of barbarians, but instead the Romans’ ability to control them. Even if the claim is that the failure of control stemmed from the rising power of Christianity one would be hard pressed to show precisely how this worked given that many of the Germanic peoples had themselves converted to Christianity. If anything one might expect the appeal of Christianity to act as an ideological bridge between Roman and Germanic people. More broadly this brings up a question crucial. When did the Roman international system actually collapse? Most scholars choose the middle of the third century AD as the beginning of the decline. This is an attractive date for a number of reasons. The later third century saw a succession of emperors debase the coinage, invite inflation, and move the empire to the edge of bankruptcy. Dire though this was the empire did persist for almost two more centuries until the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed.
Recent innovations in archeology and the recovery of new historical records led many scholars to revisit the prior claims of scholars like Gibbon. The chief revisions came in two forms. First scholars claimed that Rome and the Roman Empire did not fall in the way that was popularly conceived. While this claim carries a lot of weight in regards to the Eastern Roman Empire it is more contentious in regards to the West. Gary K.Young argues that what happened was a geographic refocusing from the Mediterranean around which Rome was always salient to the Near East where the Eastern Empire retained its glory for quite a long time and eventually transformed into Byzantium. (Young, 2001. Rome ‘s eastern trade: international commerce and imperial policy, 31 BC-AD 305, 2001).
The west, in Young’s formulation did not fall, but became irrelevant. The loss of Britain and Gaul were not defeats, but concessions. Byzantium simply had no great regard for these provinces as the empire shifted eastward. Second rather than falling at the hands of barbarians the Western Roman Empire was actually revived by these barbarians. Following a variant of the noble savage narrative the barbarians conquering of Rome rescued a moribund empire and infused it with a new, vital spirit. The claims from the revisionist school have been quite useful in expanding our understanding of who the barbarians were and what Roman/barbarian relations were like in the late Empire.
But the revisionist argument is quite weak in being able to demonstrate how or why there was a fundamental shift in sovereignty at the end of the fifth century AD. In part this is because it was never a stated goal to explain this shift, but also because it fundamentally rejects the view of the shift. Although the revisionist argument altered our understanding of the character of the collapse in the west it did not fundamentally alter the classic claims about the relationship of sovereignty to the fall. The character of the barbarians is largely irrelevant in the context of what they did.
According to supporters of the theory of imperial overstretch the rising commitments to defense seem inevitable and thus the decline of a power is itself inevitable. The problem is that it becomes impossible to specify. For example, when Augustus finally achieved final victory over his rivals he found himself in charge of a bloated and undependable military. Offering retirement incentives to the many of the soldiers he reduced the army and cavalry by more than half from seventy legions to twenty eight. (See Steven K. Drummond and Lynn H. Nelson. The western frontiers of imperial Rome, 1994).
This left in his command his most loyal and most veteran soldiers. This had a profound effect on the Western portion of the empire. Many of the retired soldiers settled in colonies in Spain , Gaul, and modern day Germany. The process of Romanization for those peoples was significantly aided by these soldier settlers. Augustus also looked at the boundaries of the Roman Empire and found that expanding them through pre-emptive war was no longer strategically expedient. This would in the long run have a profound effect on Roman sovereignty. As I mentioned earlier the principle of hierarchical belonging inherent in this principle created, over time, a tension between those in power who were disinclined to share power and those who had remained loyal and essentially Roman for a long period of time. This tension had one significant safety valve: the outward expansion of the empire. As new peoples were conquered they filled in the lower ranks of the hierarchy and subsequently lower ranks of nations and people moved up. In 48 AD the emperor Claudius oversaw a debate in the Senate regarding whether some Gauls ought to be able to seek office in the Senate. In the debate we see this basic tension reiterated.
The senators according Tacitus argued on behalf of keeping the Senate in Roman hands as the Rome had done well in the past to do so. Claudius responded by saying: My ancestors, the most ancient of whom was made at once a citizen and a noble of Rome , encourage me to govern by the same policy of transferring to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found. We had unshaken peace at home; we prospered in all our foreign relations, in the days when Italy beyond the Po was admitted to share our citizenship, and when, enrolling in our ranks the most vigorous of the provincials, under colour of settling our legions throughout the world, we recruited our exhausted empire. (Tacitus as quoted in Annals MIT, August 5 2005(Book XI), see also: http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html).
Claudius goes on to note that the great failing of Sparta and Athens was their inability to reconcile with the enemies that they fought in wars. Clearly, the words of Camillus were resonant in Claudius’ logic. The tension would remain, but in crucial moments it was resolved in favor of the underlying sovereign principle. Hierarchical sovereignty was still an entrenched and stable principle of rule. As time went on subsequent emperors deviated from this tradition. Part of this was a practical issue: a defensive empire was less able to use the safety valve inherent in the sovereign principle. Ultimately, the allure of the empire allowed interested Germanic peoples on Rome ’s northern frontier to immigrate and settle for quite a long time. In the middle of the fourth century AD the ideas enshrined in the operating principle of sovereignty were effectively defunct. The principle of sovereignty had changed from, ‘From support comes belonging as long and as far as it is profitable and practical’ to something more akin to an interpersonal realism where the decision to extend a place within the hierarchy was determined not by support, but by threat. Whittaker, for example, notes that the emperor Julian employed the barbarian Chiaretto and his men as an irregular military unit against the Franks while never requiring submission by Chiaretto himself. Whittaker goes on to note that during this period, “Frontier ideology . . . far from adapting to assimilation, became more extreme in its praise of traditional Roman values and superiority.” He was also charged with murder among things. (Encyclopedia, The Columbia. 2005. Stilicho, Flavius (6th) Columbia University Press, 2005,see also: http://www.bartleby.com/65/st/Stilicho.html).
The decreasing openness of Roman society combined with its increasing brutality served to impose a certain rigidity upon the already hierarchical principles that girded the Roman international order and ultimately to invert that core principle. Instead of a pragmatic sovereign principle that extended belonging through the act of submission, belonging was now extended by right of being able to oppose the will of the Empire. The strongest barbarian leaders were rewarded with the most land and treasure while the weakest were conquered.
Thus a fundamental shift had occurred and ultimately dictated the collapse of the Roman international system. The new sovereign principle dictated that the relations between neighboring peoples be negotiated based upon relative power and enmity and not upon submission or amity. It was inevitable that the final days of the empire saw the confrontation of armies led by barbarians both on the Roman and Goth sides. In these confrontations the Romans were no longer able to demand submission though they were willfully blind to this predicament. The Roman general Stilicho—a Vandal himself—was arrested and executed on the charges of making secret deals with the German king Alaric in the beginning of the fifth century.
While the substance of the claim was true the intent was trumped up. The meetings with Alaric were designed to mediate a peace between Rome and the Germans—as opposed to the usual tactic of destroying enemies. The Romans no longer able to defend themselves had become a feeble and fanciful negotiator rather than ruler of the realm. Still in denial the Roman core saws its peripheral territories crumbling around it. The shift in sovereignty was not an intentional one, but an expedient one. Roman pro-consuls and generals who ruled the frontier territories had begun to develop news rules of organization in the century leading up to this fateful period. The process of Romanization had ceased to meaningful. Citizenship was extended indiscriminately so that while more and more people got citizenship it had less and less to do with merit, and it provided fewer and fewer tangible benefits. Citizenship was being extended to placate frontier peoples so that they would contribute to defense without consideration of whether they had sufficiently earned citizenship. Meanwhile the benefits of that citizenship were mostly superficial. Many may have regretted it, but the exigencies of self defense necessitated the break up of the Roman international system. It was not the cost of the system, but the willingness of the participants that dictated the changing organizational principles. Decisions to simultaneously negotiate with non-submissive enemies and haphazardly extend citizenship rights to those that would defend against these enemies had the short term effect of undermining and twisting the sovereign principle of the Roman Empire . It had the long term effect of breaking down the Roman international order. As soon as norms entrepreneurs began to experiment with new sovereign principle one can see how relationships with the marcher kingdoms shifted rather dramatically. This produced a cascade effect with the Roman world. An anarchic realism was introduced to the periphery and it filtered on through to the core. The most proximate cause of all of this was the inversion of the long standing sovereign principle. We arrive at a fairly compelling explanation of the collapse of the Roman international system. It did not happen suddenly with defeat of Rome at the hands of Oadacer in 475, but it did not happen gradually through overstretch, stagnation, or a slow painful decadence. Instead decisions made by increasingly autonomous pro-consuls on the frontier of the Roman Empire worked quickly to undermine longstanding organizational principles that patterned the system. This led precipitously to a crumbling of that system from outside in. A strongly patterned hierarchy gave way to a nascent anarchy.
Existing explanations for the fall of Rome thus are ultimately unconvincing. Certain variables like the presence of barbarians or the rise of Christianity or the financial crises thus either occurred well before the collapse of the system or did not vary from before the collapse to after the collapse. Other variables like social innovation cannot be adequately proven to exist, but they play a crucial role in theories of stagnation. How can one know if a society has reached the limits of its inventiveness? To claim that is has and that those limits led to an international collapse is ultimately an unsatisfying conclusion. Shortly before the collapse or the empire the network of social relations that the empire had created ground to a halt. In order to stabilize the frontier the emperors had to invert this basic principle. The idea of Rome had failed. Why? The sudden change in sovereignty may provide a satisfying explanation of the collapse of the Roman international system, but it is unsatisfying in the larger scheme of things. Why did sovereignty take the form that it did and what happened to change it? Why are sovereign principles meaningful at one point and meaningless at some subsequent point and might be due to the relative spatial limits of the underlying social subsystems.
In fact the Roman hierarchical sovereignty was stable for nearly eight hundred years, but the Roman world changed a great deal in that time. It evolved from a regional power to rapidly expanding republic and finally to one of the largest and most stable empires that the world has ever known. Recognizing this one might take issue with the idea that space could have anything to do with the formation and evolution of Roman sovereignty. The spatial limits of Roman society were constantly growing. The very nature of Roman sovereignty necessitated an expanding Roman world. Furthermore, Roman elite’s strategic ambitions led the city-state to expand its domain aggressively. Up until the time of Augustus the borders were expanding so quickly that one would be hard-pressed to pick any specific period of time where one could say that all of the social subsystems had not changed in some way or another. This little about the absolute size of any given subsystem, but the size of each in relation to the others; it is the relative size that matters. Roman military strategy from its early victories over the Samnites through the rule of Augustus was largely focused on preemptive war. It was not a for-profit endeavor. The immediate effect of these conquests was to draw in vast amounts of booty that wasdistributed according to predetermined methods to the soldiers in the army, but the booty was not the goal. Instead the pattern of Roman conquests can be understood more through the logic of preemptive warfare. Contrary to the expectations of offensive or defensive realism the Romans consistently ignored their weaker neighbors and invited and instigated wars against their nearest competitors. (See John J. Mearsheimer, The tragedy of Great Power politics, 2001).
During the period of Italian consolidation these opponents were the Samnites and the Hellenic city-states of Italy. Under the veil of alliance the Romans consistently violated the agreements upon which the alliance was based until the Samnites were forced to attack. At this point the Carthaginians, and Macedonian kingdoms were still the big fish and the Romans invited no conflict. The successive conquests of the Samnites, King Pyrrhus, and Tarentum, announced to these big fish that the Romans were a force to be reckoned with. Once Italy was consolidated the Romans moved almost immediately to invite conflict with the Carthaginians and the Macedonians. Under the pretext of defending a revolting Sicilian city-state, Messana, the Romans began the Punic Wars with the Carthaginians. The Punic Wars which followed were incredibly brutal. But what we see from the Punic Wars and the Macedonian Wars was a consistent application of the principle of military strategy that had guided the Roman military for centuries prior. Roman military strategy before Augustus ascension was predicated on forcing confrontations with their strongest foes in order to create pretext for war. The tactical superiority of the Romans gave them the advantage in this risky endeavor. Their willingness to sacrifice huge numbers of troops and their ability to inflict unacceptable losses on their enemy formed the core of Roman battlefield strategy for most of this period. Roman strategy was more or less fixed through this period of expansion, but the organizational structure of the Roman military and the Roman state changed rather drastically. By the end of the Punic Wars Roman military commitments required the professionalization of the Roman military. Early Roman wars were fought by citizen-soldiers who moved fluidly from their farms to the legions.
Later Roman wars were fought by professional soldiers who devoted their lives to the military. The civil wars that erupted at the end of the Punic Wars were largely a result of the heavy cost paid by proletariat soldiers as increasing military commitments made it more and more difficult to tend the farms. After the professionalization of the troops it was not a far leap to an independent and powerful military. During the period of oligarchy and competition that preceded the accession of Augustus the various commanders who would be emperor including Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, and Marc Antony all used their power to give themselves command of armies loyal to them. The last century of the Republic saw the separation of the army from the and from Senatorial control. By the time Augustus became emperor the army was bloated and disloyal, but it was nonetheless still pursuing a path of expansion through preemptive war.
The growth of the Republic through this entire period followed a fairly structured process. Military conquest yielded new territories, new labor, new markets, and new soldiers, but these things independent of each other could not define the form of sovereignty that developed. A deeply entrenched policy of preemptive war does not explain the social policy of Romanization or the economic policies that favored agricultural development over trade. Economic development did not expand equally with Roman conquest, but rather followed after it. Two different processes contributed to the economic development of regions conquered by the expanding Roman Republic . The first piece was the redistribution of treasure through the soldiers. The booty from conquest was distributed proportionately through the army based upon rank and class. As time went on, the redistribution of treasure began to skew more and more towards the elites—legates, centurions, tribunes, and the equestrian class. However, the distribution of the spoils of war did not have a lasting effect on the conquered territories except that it reinforced basic role structures already inherent in the Roman economy. The social order produced by the Roman system favored the ownership of land over the acquisition of wealth through trade or other merchant professions. (John H. D'Arms, Commerce and social standing in ancient Rome, Harvard University Press, in Finley, M. I., The ancient economy. Updated / ed, Sather classical lectures, 1981, v. 43).
What was more important therefore was not the distribution of the treasure including the conquered land, but the pursuit, settlement, and development of that land. This waspursued as well by Roman citizens moving to recently conquered areas in the hope of increasing their holdings and their wealth. While the Roman Empire was highly developed economically the social value of land holding over trade created a relatively decentralized economy given its size. (Keith Hopkins, Rome , Taxes, Rents, and Trade. In The ancient economy, edited by W. Scheidel and S. v. Reden, 2002).
Military conquest always preceded economic development, but it was not the core principle of the economy. Economic role structures in the republic flowed from the leisure and self-sufficiency that one was able to purchase for one’s self. Numerous elites were engaged remotely as financiers in mercantile trades because of their ability to generate profits, but this profit-making was not the organization principle of Roman economic society. (Fik Meijer and Onno van Nijf,Trade, transport, and society in the ancient world: a sourcebook, 1992).
More money allowed elites to purchase more nobility. Production of wine, olive oil, and other agricultural products fueled much of the Roman economy. (Clementina Panellaand Andre Tchernia, Agricultural Products Transported in Ampohorae: Oil and Wine. In The ancient economy, edited by W. Scheidel and S. v. Reden, 2002).
Contrary to the suggestion that Rome followed a legionnaire economy predicated on the conquests of the Roman military one finds that these conquests merely extended the area under which a preexisting economic role structures might expand into. The settlement of conquered lands by soldiers and elites and the migration to those lands by other Roman citizens explains the pattern of economic development in the expanding Roman imperium, but does not describe the pattern of sovereignty that emerged. Once the lands were settled Roman trade extended well beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire, however the density of this trade and importance of it to the Roman economy suggests that it was less than crucial to the basic economic well-being of the empire. There was a widespread desire for Roman goods, but the Romans themselves discounted the meaningfulness of this desire and were not a trading empire as the Carthaginians. This pattern seems to hold for much of early and middle Roman expansion. The relative valuation of agricultural life and production and the importance of social hierarchy to the military structure provide a good sense of the role structures that existed in republican Rome. The policies of preemptive war, immigration, development, and settlement describe the spatial expansion of the Roman imperium.
Yet there is still an element of Roman social organization that cannot be explained by either of these spheres. Key to Rome ’s economic expansion was its policy of extending Roman citizenship and Romanization. This of course has been a common theme in Roman histories since Polybius wrote his Histories shortly after the Punic Wars. This aspect of Roman expansion is widely discussed. What it discussed less is that during this period Rome was also quite open to adopting the cultural practices of the conquered peoples. The combined effect of both these practices allowed for the rapid integration of neighboring peoples and must seen as a crucial aspect of what Mann terms Rome’s extensive organization capacity. The principle of, ‘From support comes belonging as long and as far as it is profitable and practical’ draws deeply from these cultural practices. Roman citizenship was extended according to two different categories: civitas optimo iure, and civitas sine suffragio. These were respectively full citizenship with voting rights and citizenship with comparable duties, but lacking the right to vote. The measured extension of these forms of citizenship formed one element of the Romanization process. The other elements were the mutual exchange of cultural practices. For extended periods cities in southern Italy , in particular parts of Magna Graecia, maintained the use of Greek offices, ceremonies, and religious ceremonies.(see Kathryn Lomas, Urban elites and cultural definition: Romanization in southern Italy. In Urban society in Roman Italy, edited by T. Cornell and K. Lomas, 1995).
Part of this reflected Roman policy that considered non- Roman practices acceptable so long as formal submission was complete. However part of this, Lomas further argues, reflected the influence of Greek philosophy, art, religion, and social organization upon Roman elites. Greek culture became popular among the Roman elites. In this we can get a better view of the process of Romanization. Part of Romanization was indeed the introduction of Roman law and religion into the conquered regions, but another significant aspect was the allowances and stature given to native cultures. As Lomas puts it, “In the most basic sense, all Italians were Roman by virtue of citizenship. Even where Hellenism continued to flourish, there was a Roman administrative structure and a large Roman and Italian admixture to the population.” (Ibid. pg. 116).
Greek culture, continues Lomas, played an integral role in the identities of Roman elites and thus experienced not only a continuation of Greek cultural practices, but indeed a revival. Other cultures could flourish as long as Roman administration and domination were acknowledged.
Another practice in Roman ideological expansion was the relative marginalization of the status of the original families and the added emphasis placed upon one’s nobility—understood in the original meaning of conspicuousness. Patrician families retained their status, but that status opened up to individuals capable of producing renown for themselves. For Flower this was reflected in the priority placed upon public spectacles in Roman society. The ability of an elite to host games, parades, and other public entertainment ensured that person’s ability to rise through the political ranks. Certainly, this led to and explains the opulent behavior of many of the contending oligarchs of the late first century BC. (Harriet I. Flower, Spectacle and Political Culture in the Roman Republic. In The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic , 2004, pg. 324).
What can be said more generally about this practice is that it almost assuredly reflects an obsession with one’s personal fortune and the fortune of Rome at large. Part of Rome ’s claim to hegemony was based on the religious belief that the gods—in particular the goddess Fortune—favored the Romans. The great displays of Roman dominance especially triumphal parades—reflected this dominance. With the respect to the native culture which Roman ideology overtook there was never a question of the superiority of not only Roman tactics, but also of Roman ideology. A narrative that gets consistently reproduced in Roman writing and artifacts is the greatness of Rome as evidenced by the spectacles that its greatest figures, were able to produce. (Ibid. pg. 339).
We can take from this narrative two different strands of thought important to this research. First, the essential pattern of Roman ideology was quite complex. It was simultaneously predicated on a principle of Roman cultural superiority and a noncommittal principle of live and let live. Sovereign submission then cannot be tied to any ideology since citizenship was extended regardless of cultural practice.
However submission was tied to the public acknowledgement of Roman cultural superiority. One cannot say that Roman ideology dictated the form of Roman sovereignty. One can say however that the specific hierarchies of Roman belonging were deeply influenced by Roman belief structures. At the same time a second thread becomes apparent: the process of Romanization was intrinsically tied to the process of Roman development. The extension of Roman colonies into Italy , North Africa, and Southern Europe did not follow a pure economic principle. Nearly coincident with this economic expansion was an ideological structuration of the relationships between the barbarians, the Roman immigrants, and the conquering soldier elite. For the Romans economic development was also a form of ideological change. Indeed, Strabo the Geographer notes that as the Germanic tribes became Romanized they pursued agricultural modes of production. (See The Geography of Strabo: Literarlly translated, with notes, in three volumes. Edited by H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer. London: George Bell & Sons 1903, 4.1).
This is significant. If the Roman Empire truly favored trade over agricultural pursuits we ought to expect the people being Romanized to pursue trade as well. That agriculture and land-holding became a priority among the Germanic tribes tells us a great deal about the process of economic expansion. Because of the centrality of nobility to economic role structures Romanization encouraged the purchase of leisure. Roman superiority was recognized through the greatness of the Roman infrastructure and the spectacle of Roman politics. Thus following on the heels of Roman domination was Roman ideology. Philosophy is most certainly not relevant to tradesmen, but is relevant to submission. (Tacitus implicitly agrees with this assessment in his work on Germany. In The Complete Works of Tacitus, edited by T. P.Collection, 1942, Chapter 14).
A policy of preemptive war furthermore led the Romans to conquer and expand rapidly, but one cannot expect that the conquered peoples all submitted similarly. The Roman sovereign principle effectively allows for the economic and ideological subsystems expansion while also allowing for a wide variety of administrative possibilities in a way that equal recognition fundamentally precludes. ‘From support comes belonging’ also implies a privileged position for those that are empowered to determine support. In this way Romans were always in control of the process of Romanization while simultaneously managing the practical limits of an aggressive, expansive empire.
The Romans always retained the final say-so in the submission of a domain to the Roman Empire. Potential client states could not join the Roman international order without the explicit agreement of Roman rulers. This may seem obvious, but it is worth noting regardless.
Thus, a long standing principle of hierarchical sovereignty was effectively used to structure the Roman imperium through its most expansive stage. In fact one should distinction between the imperium which was under the control of the Republic and the empire that was established by Augustus. Or as we exemplified above, the military would conquer and occupy new territories and in the generation or so afterwards it would be settled and Romanized. This experience did not always happen smoothly, but it was almost inevitable. The tactical superiority of the Roman armies and the immense wealth generated by the Roman economy proved too much for the kingdoms that Rome judged a threat. The purpose of conquest was not purely economic, strategic, or cultural, but rather it was an amalgam of various motives. By the end of the republic many of the motives for expansion were not raison d’etat, but were instead driven by the personal ambitions of optimates like Caesar, Callus, Pompey, and later Marc Antony and Octavius. Through the civil wars of the late Republic the army and the society became divided by these personal ambitions. Thus while sovereign policy remained largely the same the apparatus for unifying the vast territories of the imperium had fallen into disrepair. Furthermore as we have seen, along standing principle of hierarchical sovereignty was effectively used to structure the Roman imperium through its most expansive stage. The tactical superiority of the Roman armies and the immense wealth generated by the Roman economy proved too much for the kingdoms that Rome judged a threat. The purpose of conquest was not purely economic, strategic, or cultural, but rather it was an amalgam of various motives. By the end of the republic many of the motives for expansion were not raison d’etat, but were instead driven by the personal ambitions of optimates like Caesar, Callus, Pompey, and later Marc Antony and Octavius. Through the civil wars of the late Republic the army and the society became divided by these personal ambitions. Thus while sovereign policy remained largely the same the apparatus for unifying the vast territories of the imperium had fallen into disrepair. In fact one should distinction between the imperium which was under the control of the Republic and the empire that was established by Augustus. The Senate, driven as it was by personal ambition and loyalty to allied patrician families, was unable to reign in generals and governors who sought to increase the own nobility. Augustus’ defeat of Marc Antony at Actium granted him victory, but also forced him to reorganize the Roman government more effectively and end the civil wars and intrigue that had plagued the empire. He installed himself as ruler of the military while restoring the senate to some of it former glory. He gave himself the titles of imperator (ruler of the military) and princeps (first citizen). These titles would later be used to effectively neuter the Senate and any of the last vestiges of the republic. However under Augustus, whether as a matter of strategy or principle, the Senate had at least the appearance of power and efficacy. The rule of Augustus brought major changes to the structure of the Roman Empire though the sovereign principle that ruled it remained the same. Augustus, consolidated the military and reduced its size nearly in half. This as we indicated, had two effects on the Roman Empire . First, the reduced fighting force was loyal to Augustus, but insufficient for expanding the borders of the Empire in any profound way. Second the soldiers dismissed from the army were given various incentives to settle in colonies in the Roman frontier. On the one hand the prior process of military expansion was temporarily halted and on the other hand the process of Romanization was greatly accelerated. Whatever the motives of Augustus, his reign saw an important shift towards a defensive empire managed by a cadre of bureaucrats loyal to Augustus.
Subsequent emperors in the Julio-Claudian line ignored Augustus’ advice and expanded into Britain, Dacia, and the Parthian Empire. This was a more measured expansion and based less on preemptive war, and more on the pursuit of nobility.Augustus’ rule brought with it a shift in the organizing principle of the security The diffusion of the Roman security subsystem slowed, stagnated, and calcified into the limes that were the line of defense for the rest of the Roman Empire. The professionalization of the military and the settlement of ex-soldiers in the frontier colonies had furthermore the effect of increasing the rate of Romanization. While local customs were allowed to remain, Roman institutions and culture were installed as the lingua franca of the empire. By 212 BC the misguided and brutal emperor Caracalla simultaneous riled the barbarian tribes on the frontier while also granting citizenship to every alien, except the most recently submitted, in the Roman Empire. In one fell swoop he ensured that citizenship would expand rapidly and become meaningless. The association of citizenship with submission and belonging were effectively severed for the moment. Luckily for the Empire his reign was short and ended unsurprisingly in his murder. Yet his reforms are evidence of a nascent instability in the empire. Indeed his reign and the reign of his father, Septimus Severus, saw the beginning of the near collapse of the empire in the middle to late third century. The diffusion of Roman ideology through the relocations of Romans slowed while the diffusion of ideology through submission was accelerated to the point where citizenship eventually became virtually devoid of content. While this period has signaled to many the beginning of the decline of the empire the sovereign principle which defined the Roman Empire remained constant. The dual processes of a decreasing rate of territorial growth along with an increasing rate of Romanization make clear that a change in principles by itself cannot explain the shifting meaning of sovereignty. What remained important in this discussion is that the seeds of the destruction of the empire were planted at the very outset of the empire. Augustus, moderate and savvy as he was, had fundamentally altered the process of Roman expansion and the substance of Roman domination in the international system. The Roman Empire continued to be structured by the principle of belonging through submission, but the issue of how far and how long was practical was suddenly unclear. It must be said that Roman conquest of the entire world as would be required by the process of expansion and idea of Rome was never actually possible. Ultimately, Augustus was right to halt the policy of preemptive war, but in so doing he created long term problems that he could not have foreseen. Even shortly after Augustus’ reign, during the rule of the Emperor Claudius there is a telling shift in the perception of the empire. In Galgacus’ view for example peace is a desert and the act of submission leads to no good. The Romans are no longer superior, but are “rapacious”. This rapacity and the demand for uniformity is what Peter Brown claimed, both united the Empire through a “sleight of hand”, but also what ultimately led to its rejection on the frontiers of the empire. Brown, The world of late antiquity, AD 150-750, 1971).
This view is not surprising given the Britons imminent conquest, but it is telling all the same that very basis of Roman dominion, the idea of Rome , was being critiqued and not the fact of Roman dominance. Thus even where the Romans were expanding the societies were less organized, but their submission was less complete and more troublesome. At the same time that the process of expansion was stagnating and the process of Romanization was accelerating the Roman economy was alternately collapsing and deurbanizing. After successive devaluations in Roman currency and the subsequent economic collapse of the empire in the third century AD the economy began to undergo a profound shift. The society had become increasingly stratified according to class. Plus, as the locus of power shifted to the east the draw of Rome as the center of economic activity began to break apart. The center could not hold. It was as if the sun had gone out and the planets spun off into oblivion. For better or for worse the Roman economy was structured by a pyramid principle and where Rome retained its overall relevance as the center of Christianity for some time, the economic crises of the second century and decreasing relevance of towns on the frontier ensured that the basic principle had been corrupted. The roads that held the empire together distributed trade, wealth, and role structures hierarchically from the larger cities to smaller cities and then to outlying areas. As the cities became irrelevant so too did the roads. Inexorably, inevitably this led Rome itself to become irrelevant as well.This shift away from Rome happened almost concurrently with the rejection of the Rome principle of sovereignty when the death of the emperor Theosdosius broke the empire into two in 395 AD. But It was not decadence, nor Christianity. Nor was it the size of the empire, or its cost that foretold Rome ’s famous decline, but the very ambition of its sovereign principle and the evolution of the social structure that eroded the edifice upon which it stood. For imperial overstretch and stagnation, the economic collapse of the mid to late third century AD happened almost one hundred fifty years before the sack of Rome by Alaric in 408 AD. While this collapse may have been a harbinger of things to come it was itself not a proximate cause. Regarding the presence of barbarians there was no flood to speak of. There were numerous barbarians even before the formation of the empire and certainly during the reign of the empire. Their mere presence is a non-issue. The ability and willingness of the Romans to integrate them was however. Additionally the meaningfulness of that inclusion to new Germanic immigrants had also steadily decreased. Roman citizenship ceased to hold the value that it had in the past.
Conclusion: As we have seen, the Romans began with a large security subsystem relative to the others and they expanded accordingly. The ideological and economic subsystems were relatively equal to each other, but grew behind the security subsystem. According to the theory that I have put forward this favored a constantly expanding zone of hierarchical sovereignty. The impracticality of Roman sovereignty was not the key issue. It was the pragmatic choice to create a loyal military and a defensive empire that proved fatal in the long run. This shift caused the security subsystem to collapse relative to the other systems. By the middle of the fourth century the security subsystem was relatively the same size as the economic subsystem, which had stagnated, while the ideological subsystem continued to expand. The net effect of these changes to the subsystems relative to each other shifted the empire into an inherently unstable state. There was no sovereign principle which could efficiently solve the underlying spatial problems of this shift.
The effects of these changes spread slowly through empire. The shifts were felt first in the frontiers where the diffusion of Roman ideology accelerated while the spread of the Roman military slowed and eventually halted. In so doing the requirement of submission became weaker and weaker. Concurrently an increasingly frantic and conservative narrative became entrenched in the relocated Romans on the frontier. This narrative espoused a closed version of Roman identity and intentionally excluded the new and prospective submissive populations. Nations that sought to join the empire received a meaningless grant of citizenship and were simultaneously asked to defend their new compatriots. By the fifth century land allotments to barbarian tribes in exchange for submission had become so extensive.
Following our introduction and chart at the top of this page, we thus argued that the order shifted from an expansive security system that was followed by a relatively equal growth in the ideological and economic subsystems to an order where the security subsystem stagnated while the ideological subsystem continued to grow and the economic subsystem began to collapse. The Roman Empire , which had been predicated on hierarchical sovereignty, shifted suddenly towards the third type of unstable order. The proconsuls on the frontier of the Western Roman Empire began casting about for some solution to the growing inefficiencies of Roman rule finally settling on the expedient, but ultimately destructive policy of defensive realism. By the end, the Roman form of hierarchical sovereignty was totally inefficient. But the underlying shift that had occurred left the empire in a hopeless state. No possible innovation in sovereignty could have saved the empire. Norms entrepreneurs could flail about, as Stilicho did, but nothing would save the empire. Indeed, the only policy options open to the Romans was to change the inherent nature of the empire, to pull back from their imperial ambitions, to resist the inclusion of any more nations, and possibly to eject some nations from the Roman Empire. None of these courses of action were actually politically feasible. Fattened on the glory of Rome it is hard to imagine any self-respecting Roman citizen favoring a moderate and measured twilight. The idea of Rome had developed over the course of centuries and while the institutional changes imposed by Augustus during the beginning of empire would ultimately undermine this idea it was to be another four centuries until the idea was finally bankrupt. It was the actions of Rome ’s first and greatest emperor that lead it down the long road to perdition. We next move on and present our new investigation about European and Chinese Statehoodt:
For example how, do we explain why many non-Chinese regimes who ruled parts or all of North China and the southern steppe - notably the Jin dynasty, founded by the semi-nomadic Jurchen of Manchuria - build walls against their northern neighbours in the 12th century when their southern neighbors, the long-lasting (Chinese) Song dynasty, made little use of "long walls" despite being on the defensive against determined attack from the steppe? In fact just as today's Chinese authorities cannot exercise total command of the internet, Chinese imperial courts were rarely in full control of their frontiers,(nor, indeed, of migration across the Siberian and Xinjiang borders). Then, as now, government intentions were frequently disrupted, diverted or subverted by local realities, which in many cases became the drivers of events at state level.